Mizoram Vidhan Sabha polls: From anti-incumbency to alcohol ban, a number of factors thwart Congress' bid to retain power

The Mizo National Front (MNF) emerged victorious in the Mizoram Assembly elections on Tuesday, bagging 26 seats out of the 40-member assembly, according to the figures by the Election Commission of India.

The Congress party has won five seats, while the BJP secured one. The Independents have won eight seats.

The Congress party, which has been in power in  Mizoram since 2008, was eyeing a third consecutive term. However, incumbent Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla, who contested from Serchhip and Champhai South, lost both the seats.

MNF, the regional political party, formed the government twice in past, first in 1986 and then in 1998. However, it lost the 2008 elections and won only three seats.

Currently, it's a part of the North-East Regional Political Front, which supports the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Pu Zoramthanga is the president of the MNF.

The state, which went to polls on 28 November, saw a voter turnout of about 80 percent. As many as 7,70,395 lakh voters were eligible to cast their vote in the state including 3.75 lakh males and 3.95 lakh females.

From anti-incumbency to alcohol, a variety of factors made the Congress' quest to retain its hold on power difficult.

Anti-incumbency

The Congress dominated the 2013 Vidhan Sabha polls, winning 34 seats and nabbing an impressive 45 percent vote share. The Mizo National Front (MNF) won five seats and the Mizoram People's Conference won one seat. The BJP failed to open its account in the previous election. However, Congress is battling the tide of history. Ever since Mizoram became a full-fledged state in 1987, the Congress and the MNF (an influential regional party), have taken turns ruling it.  While the grand old party increased its tally in the 40-member Vidhan Sabha from 32 to 34 in the 2013 elections, neither it nor the MNF, has ever ruled for more than two consecutive terms.

File image of Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla. PTI

File image of Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla. PTI

MNF factor

According to this Firstpost piece by Biswa Kalyan Purkayastha, the anti-incumbency facing the Congress creates a favourable scenario for the BJP to win more seats in the state Vidhan Sabha, unless the MNF plays spoiler.  Former chief minister and MNF chief Zoramthanga said his party MNF shied away from aligning with the BJP in the polls as the party intended to disturb peace in the Christian-majority Mizoram.

However, according to a report in the Economic Times, the MNF is hampered by the Opposition describing it as a BJP "proxy" (the MNF is both part of the NDA and Northeast Democratic Alliance - a conglomeration of BJP's small allies in the North East). For his part,  Zoramthanga is playing it safe and making sure not to get on the bad side of the voters, telling ET Magazine, "Congress is our political opponent since the beginning. Since we can't be with the Congress, we are with the BJP, at the Centre. But in Mizoram, no one will tolerate the BJP — they are anti-Christian."

Drugs and alcohol

According to a report in The Times of India, drugs and alcohol are a potent poll issue: enough to sweep political parties in and out of power. From 2013 to 2018, 232 people died of drug abuse in Mizoram and 1,460 people, including 163 women, died of drug abuse since 1984. As per the Mizoram Excise and Narcotics Department website, deaths due to liquor consumption have been on the rise: From 9 in 2015 to 22 in 2016 and to 59 in 2017.

The Congress' partial lifting of the liquor ban in 2015 went directly against the inclination of the church. Mizoram comprises 87 percent Christians and the Church has always had a say in all matters of the state and the society, which may cost the party dearly at the voting booth.

While the Congress has stated it will not tamper with the status quo on liquor if it returns to power, the MNF and Zoram People's Movement have promised to implement a blanket  ban. "It (liquor) is an epidemic, a big plague in Mizoram. We are going to solve the drug and alcohol problem by a total prohibition of liquor. We will fight totally against the drugs," MNF president and former chief minister Zoramthanga told PTI in an interview. The BJP has promised to promote only local brews. The strong pro-prohibition sentiment in the state may give the edge to the MNF over the Congress, student body Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) leader Ricky Lalbiakmawia told The Times of India.

Refugees

Illegal immigration from Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal is a hot button issue for voters. Reports have pegged the number of illegal migrants—which has increased drastically—at 10,000. In December, a number of civil society groups and student associations urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ensure that all illegal immigrants, especially Chakmas from Bangladesh, are deported.

According to this Firstpost piece, while the Chakmas have been in Mizoram for a long time, what is suddenly worrying the Mizos, with elections just around the corner, is the rapid spurt in Chakma population in the areas that fall under the Chakma Autonomous District Council (CADC). The Mizos have claimed this increase is due to illegal immigration from Bangladesh. NGOs across the state have now raised the demand for scrapping of the CADC.

However, their demand that Chakma candidates be denied tickets by the Congress and the BJP has largely been ignored. The mainstream parties, even as they try to steer clear of voicing support for the minorities for fear of a Mizo backlash, realise that the Chakmas are a strong vote bank, given that they form nearly 10 percent of the total state population of around 11 lakh. They are the second-largest minority group in Mizoram after the Brus.

The Bru refugee issue also continues to haunt the government. Its decision to undertake the physical repatriation of over 32,000 Brus lodged in six relief camps in North Tripura district from the second week of February could not take off due to legal reasons. The Brus have been lodged in the camps since 1997 following exodus from Mizoram due to communal tension triggered by the murder of a forest official by Bru militants.

Infrastructure

In February, a bailey bridge over the Tuirini river between Sesawng and Khawruhlian collapsed, killing one person and injuring others. The MNF has targeted the Congress over the state's infrastructure, with its general secretary Lalruatkima telling reporters the Congress regime never took moral responsibility for the bad road conditions in the state, the scarcity of essential commodities or the collapse of a bridge.

The MLA blamed the Congress government, Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla and his younger brother Lal Thanzara, who had been looking after the Public Works portfolio for ten years, for the extremely bad road conditions. He alleged that the duo had awarded contracts only to a few non-tribal contractors, who were overburdened with work orders, which caused a delay in the completion of works. The "horrible" condition of the roads in the state was a result of a quid pro quo nexus between Lal Thanhawla, Lal Thanzara and the non-tribal contractors, Lalruatkima alleged.

Unemployment

Unemployment is one of the state's biggest problems. That, coupled with the second highest literacy rate in the country (91 percent), could be a great source of frustration for the public, especially the youth. According to Indiaspend, the rapid development is not creating enough jobs and livelihood. Poverty is also an issue, with 20.40 percent of the population living below the poverty line in 2011-12. The two main reasons for poverty in the state are under-developed agriculture and unskilled labour. Tribals practice traditional and unscientific ‘jhum’ or slash-and-burn method of cultivation, in which land is cleared and vegetation burned to make way for new cultivable land.

A total of 209 candidates are contesting the Mizoram Vidhan Sabha elections which are slated to be held in a single phase on 28 November. The ruling Congress has fielded 40 candidates while the BJP and MNF are contesting in 39 and 40 assembly seats, respectively.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Dec 11, 2018 17:42:46 IST

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